Inside the Style Lab: How Molly Bingaman Elevated Her Fashion Business in KC’s CrossroadsDavid Cawthon
Decades ago, the building at 501 Southwest Blvd. in Kansas City’s Crossroads District was filled with the hustle and bustle of passengers transferring busses. These days, there’s a different kind of hustle going on inside the space, which has undergone a total makeover.
And that’s no surprise, considering who owns it.
Molly Bingaman is the brainchild and master style consultant behind The Ladybird Style Lab and Salon, a brick-and-mortar fashion business that’s evolved from a humble one-on-one style consulting operation to a full-fledged two-story fashion lab.
What Molly is accomplishing with Ladybird is unique: It’s not your standard clothing store, and she’s not your standard fashion entrepreneur.
Designing a Business for a New Concept
So what makes Ladybird different?
This video lays it all out, but here’s the gist. Molly isn’t just pulling a green sweater off the rack because she thinks it’s your color. She’s choosing it because it fits who you are and how you move.
Molly says our personalities and movement should guide how we dress, and that those aspects tend to fall in one of four categories that are defined by how we move and think. You might be a One, Two, Three or Four.
For example, Ones tend to be creative, random and always moving, so their best-match clothing and accessories are usually bright and move upward with flourishes of color. Fours, in contrast, move purposefully and linearly: Their complementary clothes would generally be bold, defined and geometric. (Molly is a Four.)
Molly has applied that theory throughout her business, even to the employees she hires, to make sure she has a mix of people with varying strengths to help push her fashion business forward. (Because she’ll be one of the first to tell you hiring a great team is crucial.)
But before she was forming a team, she was figuring out how to get this business idea out of her head and into the real world.
Getting Ready for the Runway
In 2010, Molly was a full-time paralegal when she got the idea for her fashion consulting business. Her friends kept complimenting her clothing choices, so she thought, “Why not make this thing I love doing a business?” So that’s when Molly built a website and built up a closet-to-closet biz. (She even got some training from Stacy London of TLC’s “What Not to Wear.”)
“With this business, it’s really had to be something that’s developed over time,” Molly says. “It hasn’t been done before. It’s a new, exciting thing we’re trying, and that means we need to be flexible.”
Eventually, Molly decided she could help more people look great if she opened a physical location, so she decided to take this thing to the next level … but she needed some help getting there.
Some Help Stitching Things Together
Molly doesn’t have an MBA and isn’t an expert business mogul. But she does have passion, curiosity and the willingness to learn … and that’s what she’s needed to forge a smarter path through this thing called entrepreneurship.
“That piece of humility when you’re running a business is really key, especially when you’re just starting,” she says. “Sometimes you just have to be able to say, ‘I’m going to have to change course; I made a mistake. Who cares?’”
It’s that willingness to test her concept and shift with what customers are telling her that enabled Molly to transition from that side hustle to a full-time retail location. She was willing to learn, so she found people in KC that could teach her how to really walk, talk and dress the part of a fashion entrepreneur.
For one, she took some low-cost and free courses to give her venture the runway to really get off the ground—and, eventually, onto Southwest Boulevard.
She enrolled in Entrepreneurial Mindset Training, a learning program from the UMKC Small Business Technology Development Center that helped her think like an entrepreneur and immersed her in experiences that showed her what she needed to succeed. Molly also took the ELEVATIONLAB™ NEW VENTURE course, which showed her how to test her business concept to see if it could really work IRL.
She says the UMKC SBTDC was the one place she could get the information she needed, as well as some one-on-one business coaching, and then apply it to her fashion startup. It helped her envision the full picture, revealed her blind spots and gave her the technical business skills to strut her stuff as a business owner.
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“It was really helpful to feel like I wasn’t going in blind, and it gave me a greater awareness of what I needed to be thinking about and what the whole scope looked like,” she says.
And those courses also laid out a sound plan for what she wanted to do.
“One great thing I got out of ELEVATIONLAB™ courses was the advice to start as small as possible and test until the market pushes you to grow,” she says. “What can you do to hone the most fundamental core elements of your concept and then grow outward depending on if there’s interest? It’s worth doing, especially since with some business ideas, like this one, you can simulate online and gauge interest before you plant a storefront and hope people come.”
Lessons in the Classroom Pay Off
And that’s exactly what Molly did. She planned, tested and used her consulting business to assess what she had to do to open a physical location.
Now, the physical style lab has been rolling along for about three years, and Molly has made some additions, like a salon on the second floor that she opened after she got a lot of questions from her clients about hair and makeup.
The takeaway? Listen to your customers … because they can reveal key business opportunities.
“When the salon opened, it totally changed the atmosphere in here,” she says. “Before, it was appointment only, and the door would be locked. It was very quiet. With the salon, … the phone started ringing all the time, and I realized we needed someone at the front desk.”
And as of January 2019, Molly expanded her team to six employees.
As Molly evolves her business, she herself has undergone some huge changes: Now she has a clear vision for her venture, a storefront, a sharper brand, other revenue streams (like the salon) that feed into her core business, business savvy, leadership … you get the idea.
And all that has helped her prime the style lab and salon for the next chapter.
“I always knew what we were doing was going to be great, but I didn’t know how it was going to work,” she says. “I needed to let it play out so we could capture what was happening naturally and build around that. It’s been about three years, and we’re just getting there.
“That’s how a lot of this has been: having a really strong vision and then creating the space for it and believing it will work.”